Center aims to build better reading skills among migrant children
By Feng Li

"What is the purpose of reading? It's part of life." So said philanthropist Yue Yihua in a speech at the year-end awards ceremony at Beijing Jindi Elementary School.

In her impassioned advocacy of the importance of reading, Yue told the students, all of whom are children of migrant workers, "While our eyes are seeing the books our minds are connecting with the story and even the broader world."

Yue is deputy director-general of the Beijing Sanzhi Children's Relief Center, a non-profit organization that, in 2017, launched the Weilan Library initiative. The idea is to encourage volunteers to manage and operate lending libraries at schools for migrant workers' children on the urban fringes of major cities in China. 

"There's an evident gap in reading ability between our migrant children and public school students," Yue told Rediscovering China

"They have very limited access to reading materials and pretty poor educational resources. By giving them access to reading at a young age we hope they can develop the ability to study by themselves as this will benefit them far more than doing well in exams."  

Yue Yihua, deputy director-general of Beijing Sanzhi Children's Relief Center. /CGTN

Yue Yihua, deputy director-general of Beijing Sanzhi Children's Relief Center. /CGTN

According to the center's research, China has nearly 37 million migrant children. Of the 520,000 who are living temporarily in Beijing, 40,000 don't fulfill the requirements to be admitted to public school. This group is a focus of the organization's work. Since 2007, it has been helping in a variety of ways, such as offering financial support to schools and assistance to teachers. 

However, these initiatives have not always produced the desired results. "Most private schools' priority is making a profit," said Yue. "Teachers who receive our assistance may try to switch to a public school. Then, the students we're aiming to serve can't get the help we'd like.”

There are currently 40 Beijing Sanzhi Children's Relief Center Weilan Libraries staffed by 835 volunteers. Operating in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and other cities, they provide more than 30,000 children with access to 300,000 books.

But there's more to the scheme than encouraging youngsters to read. Explaining the broader philosophy, Yue said, "We want to use it as a public advocacy platform. We offer citizens a chance to go to the urban fringes to discover the kind of school where the children of our housekeepers live and study."  

Such contact with the children is important as it allows cities' permanent residents "to understand that the reason why they leave in grade six and go back home alone is that their parents have to stay in Beijing to work. Then they'll have a fresh perspective on this issue."

For the full story, please tune in to Rediscovering China this Sunday.

Rediscovering China is a 30-minute feature program offering in-depth reports on the major issues facing China today. It airs on Sunday at 02.30 GMT, with a rebroadcast at 15.30, as well as on Monday at 00.30 GMT and Wednesday at 22.30 GMT.

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